Passing Before God

Deepening our relationship with God reminds us of our smallness, our greatness, and the chance to be better.

Print this page Print this page

Our greatness lies in the appre­ciation that we are nevertheless not entirely ignorant, that we are given the opportunity to be a conscious and, albeit to a very limited degree, compre­hending part of the infinite life. The challenge of our existence is to be inspired by that knowledge and to use it as the source for creativity in all our relationships, with people and nature, with words and music, wood and clay. Touched, each in our own way, by the eternal presence, we strive to "sing God a new song."

Knowing Us From Within

But there is another aspect to the encounter with God. Judaism speaks not just of God as the maker who creates and inspires, but also as the judge who searches and knows, who "examines the kidneys and the heart." We are taught that God is not only outside us but that God also knows us from with­in. God, too, "holds... the mirror up to nature," and, compelled to perceive the image, I cannot but see myself as I am. And, careless, mistaken, or short tempered, I am often far from the person I like to think of myself as being.

I have learned something about this from my children. Frank and sponta­neous, they haven't yet acquired the art of knowing what not to say. "Why are you speaking to us in that voice, daddy? That isn't your nice voicenor is it the loud voice that you use in shul for sermonsand I don't like it!"

Our children have to suffer us in ways that even God may not know much about. They're certainly more direct in saying what they think of us. But God's knowing can be real enough too, conveyed through the con­science in moments of recognition and feelings of shame and regret. I can­not meet God without also encountering myself. Some of us were taught to be afraid at the thought that God should know us. Yet we should be willing to be known, in spite of the anxiety and fear of guilt that this may bring. Who wants to go through life with the same faults, learning nothing, caught up in the same pattern of mistakes and missed opportunities? Who wants to proceed through life unknown and unproved? Isn't it better to learn and change, to use life as fully as possible for goodness and growth?

Therefore we also have to welcome moments of shame, though with the hope that they will come in small doses, in private and without humilia­tion, that, like the salt that stings but heals, they will be for our cure and purification. For just as a sense of unworthiness often accompanies deep feelings of love, so a feeling of sorrow for what we have done wrong may be part of our closeness to God.

Did you like this article?  MyJewishLearning is a not-for-profit organization.

Please consider making a donation today.

Jonathan Wittenberg

Rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg serves as rabbi of New North London Synagogue. His other publications include Three Pillars of Judaism: A Search for Faith and Values and The Laws of Life: A Guide to Traditional Jewish Practice at Times of Bereavement.